Real World Windows Azure: Interview with Jan Kopmels, CEO of Crumbtag

 As part of the Real World Windows Azure interview series, I talked to Jan Kopmels, Cofounder and Chief Executive Officer at Crumbtag, about using Windows Azure to provide on-demand processing power for its ad-placement application.  Read the customer success story.  Here’s what he had to say.

Himanshu Kumar Singh:  Where did the idea for Crumbtag come from?

Jan Kopmels: Some online advertising companies provide user-based ad matching, placing ads on web pages based on visitor profiles. This relies on the use of cookies—data that is stored locally on a user’s computer. The problem with cookies is that they are raising privacy concerns, and many countries are outlawing them. Plus, cookies stay on users’ PCs, so advertisers cannot store them centrally for analysis.

I wanted to capture user web-behavior data and process it centrally in a giant statistical database. This would not only allow customers to place ads without relying on cookies but also lets them take advantage of dynamic ad placements that are adjusted and refined with every webpage view and click.

HKS:  When was Crumbtag launched?

JK:  We launched Crumbtag in 2009 and our small team spent two years developing technology for the ad-placement application. I soon determined that we’d have to spend millions of dollars on data center infrastructure to process the prodigious amounts of data involved, and millions more to expand across Europe. We needed a whole new infrastructure and business model to make the business viable.

HKS:  So you turned to the cloud?

JK:  Yes, we began evaluating cloud service providers in December 2010. We turned to Windows Azure primarily because we’re a committed user of Microsoft technology and had developed our ad placement application using the .NET Framework and SQL Server 2008. We did look briefly at Amazon cloud solutions but felt they were too immature.

HKS:  How does Crumbtag use Windows Azure?

JK:  We use Windows Azure compute to provide on-demand processing power for our ad-placement application, which processes about 4000 requests a second and provides an 80-millisecond response time to well-known Dutch companies such as ABNAmro and KPN. Additionally, we use SQL Azure to store statistical information on visitors, as well as Windows Azure Service Bus to communicate ad-matching parameters to hundreds of virtual machines across its network.  And Windows Azure Caching provides high-speed communication between those virtual machines.

HKS:  How was the migration to Windows Azure?

JK:  For an experienced .NET developer, moving to Windows Azure is a piece of cake. It took us just six weeks to move our application to Windows Azure – about 20 minutes of which was required to migrate the database to SQL Azure.

HKS: How does your application actually work?

JK: When a customer launches an ad campaign on Crumbtag, it uploads the ad and indicates how many clicks or views it wants to purchase. Crumbtag then places the ad randomly on the web. When the first web visitors click on the ad, Crumbtag starts determining statistical anomalies in the ‘clickers’ based on the site the visitor came from, where the visitor lives, what day and time it is, and so forth—and starts matching users with similar data. All campaigns are matched in real time against the Crumbtag statistical database.

HKS:  How has your business benefitted from running on Windows Azure?

JK:  By launching our ad placement business on Windows Azure, we’ve been able to scale our business rapidly, pitch ourselves to the biggest businesses, and avoid significant costs. We can quickly scale to serve its growing number of customers; in fact we plan to expand into the rest of Europe in 2012. 

With Microsoft taking care of the Crumbtag infrastructure, we have more time to concentrate on growing their business. We’re a technology-driven business, but we don’t want to devote our resources to supporting hardware and managing IT systems. We’ve outsourced these tasks to Microsoft, which lowers our costs and allows us to focus on the business.

HKS:  What have the cost-savings translated to for your business and your customers?

JK:  By using cloud computing, we’ve been able to lower our operating costs and offer a more cost-effective solution that helps us win business against larger, more established players that are saddled with on-premises IT setups. And because we’re not spending millions of dollars on IT infrastructure, we can pass those savings on to customers. We have been able to win multinational customers as a small startup, but also demonstrate to them that we use cutting-edge technology.

I estimate that we have also avoided spending between U.S.$5 and 10 million a year on data centers and personnel, or up to $40 million in the first five years. As a startup, we did not have millions of dollars to build an enormous IT infrastructure. To expand across Europe, we would have to install a data center in each country. Our business model would not have been viable if we had not moved to Windows Azure.

Read the full case study.  Learn how other companies are using Windows Azure.